If you know me, you know I don’t make lists…can’t handle the pressure! So, when the nice people at Shepherd.com contacted me recently about my book and asked if I’d like to make a list of my favorite books on topics/themes similar to mine, I took a beat to think about it. Then I did some research.
Shepherd is a book-finding website that features authors and lists of the books they love. The idea is that it will bring readers (looking for a certain kind of book) and authors together. You can search by topic, book title, or author’s name.
It took me a while to whittle down my list, write descriptions, and then produce a catchy title, then Shepherd did the rest. I highly recommend all these books/authors and if you read and enjoyed my book, you’ll love them too.
Vacation Week! I was off this week and had one goal…write 5,000 words on my work-in-progress, young adult novel. But here I sit on Saturday afternoon with zero words written and I’m not even a little bit disappointed.
Because I did something way more fun!
I’ve been listening to The Moth on NPR for years. Ever since I heard my first episode, I’ve dreamed of one day being on stage, sharing true stories from my life. Connecting with people in a medium that resonates to my core and speaks to my heart. Storytelling. This week, that dream came true.
A few days earlier I had received an email about a Moth Story Slam in Houston, and for the first time, I was going to be off work and could actually go. Immediately, I began crafting a story in my mind, spent the next few days fine-tuning it, then drove to Houston, put my name on the list, and was one of ten people chosen at random to tell a five-minute story!
The theme of the night was Chemistry and the ten storytellers each had a slightly different take on that theme. There were designated judges pulled from the audience (I’m guessing there were around 200 people there) and each storyteller received a score of 1-10 from each set of judges.
I was the second storyteller of the night and didn’t know I was going to get on stage until the host called my name. After she did, I made my way to the side of the stage, as previously instructed, and waited as she made the audience laugh by reading funny anecdotes about dangerous combinations. It was a short wait but I somehow had the presence of mind to snap this photo, and text my husband that I was on stage!
My husband did not have the week off, so I was in Houston all by myself. I’d driven down, gotten a hotel room, then called an Uber to take me to the venue (Warehouse Live) and I’d been sitting in the audience alone. Now I was alone back stage getting ready to stand behind that very microphone and tell the story I’d prepared.
And that’s what I did. My story (Chapter 16 from my memoir, More Than Everything) was about my one and only psychedelic drug experience in the 1980’s. The audience was fun and receptive. They laughed at all the right places and gasped when appropriate, then applauded loudly when I finished. I stayed on topic, kept it within the five minute time frame, and got great scores (9.0, 8.5, and 7.7) but I didn’t win. And that’s okay.
I DID IT!
There were so many great stories and everyone did so well. I felt like I shared the stage with a bunch of professionals. And as soon as my turn was over, I wanted to do it again.
Later, many people approached me to say they enjoyed my story. One guy thought I should have won. One girl asked about my process, and another told me she loved my story and my outfit. A radio producer asked me if I had other stories and handed me his business card. People were so nice and friendly and supportive. It was surreal. It was fun. It was exhilarating. The whole experience felt almost serendipitous. Like clicking on that email set me on a path that led me straight to that stage to share that story with that audience.
It is an experience I’ll remember forever. And I want to do it again. And again. And again. Maybe some day one of my stories will make it on the radio.
After the show, I Ubered back to my hotel, sat in the bar, and drank a margarita to celebrate.
So while I didn’t get any new words written on my WIP, I got something so much better…a rich, beautiful, forever experience ripe with stories I’ll tell for a long time to come.
You know those twenty minutes of euphoria that happen twice a year if you’re lucky? That brief, beautiful moment where everything is done and you feel like you’re winning at life?
The refrigerator is full, the dishwasher is empty. You’ve gone to the dentist, the doctor, gotten the oil changed in your car, the registration is up-to-date, your taxes are paid, there are no presents to buy, no parties to attend, nothing that needs doing because you did the work, paid attention, got things done, and have everything under control?
I experienced this joy last Sunday, when for a small window of time, everything was done. I danced around the house like a superhero, patted myself on the back, drank a glass of wine and took a bubble bath in celebration.
But the universe has a way of keeping us in check. Showing us the other side of the coin.
Reminding us nothing lasts forever.
Monday brought me a runny nose and a cough, Wednesday’s gift was back spasms that had me like: you didn’t really need to stand up today, did you? and then came Saturday. Saturday morning with its sunshine and promises. Still coughing, still feeling like crud, but excited by warmer temperatures and NO RAIN, I made myself a cup of coffee and went out on my back patio to enjoy.
Things were looking up.
Within minutes I got stung by a venomous caterpillar and spent the next twelve hours in excruciating pain. Yep, the universe reminded me who’s boss. It decided that five days of fighting a cold, slogging to work when I felt like staying in bed, enduring rainy day traffic and cranky co-workers wasn’t enough. The universe, in all its wisdom, decided yesterday was the day I needed to be introduced to this fuzzy fellow.
Meet the Southern Flannel Moth, a/k/a the Megalopyge opercularis, the Southern Stinging Caterpillar, or Puss Moth Caterpillar. They are a bi-annual (spring and fall) phenomenon found from Virginia to Florida to Texas. They love shade trees (especially oaks, pecans, elm, and citrus) and if you’re allergic, their sting can send you to the ER faster than you can say fuzzy wuzzy. These guys are fuzzy, but ferocious.
Above is my picture of the actual culprit. Here’s a better photo I found online:
On my patio, the lime tree my daughter got me for mother’s day looked like it needed rotating, so I bent down, hugged the container and turned it. When I did, I suspect this creepy crawler moved from the plant to the front of my sweatshirt. Or it fell out of a tree. I didn’t see it.
When my arm brushed against its back there was an instant stinging, burning pain. I looked down and saw him there, stuck to my shirt. My husband used a stiff leaf to fling it away. My arm was on fire … like a thousand fire ant bites or a dozen wasp stings.
The stung area didn’t look like much, just some redness, but it felt like hell. We washed my arm with soap and water. Poured bleach on it, scrubbed it with mechanic’s de-greaser, and made a baking soda paste.
I set up camp on the couch, and over the next few hours, switched out an ice pack every thirty minutes while I watched the first four episodes of The Romanoffs on Prime Video to take my mind off my misery. It kinda worked. But not really. But wow! What a show.
Hubby scoured the internet looking for anything that might help. Between episodes, we tried different remedies. Scotch tape to remove the poisonous hairs from my skin, vanilla extract, aloe vera. Tylenol did nothing for the pain. We tried anti-itch cream, pain relief rub, even magnesium oil. Nothing put a dent in my discomfort.
I’m not a baby. I survived 25 hours of labor and gave birth without medication. I have a high pain tolerance. But after six or eight hours of bone crushing, burning, throbbing agony, I questioned whether it would ever stop. I questioned my sanity. I questioned the existence of God.
Most of what we read online said the pain would subside within an hour or so. But then we read an article that said, in some cases, the pain lasts up to twelve hours. And that’s when I knew. The universe was going to make me suffer even longer.
The pain continued. And, after the skies grew dark, my mind grew numb, and my body grew exhausted, it was time for bed. The sting occurred at 10:00 am. It was now 9:00 pm. Still in misery, I brushed my teeth, put on my jammies, and crawled into bed.
And magically, within minutes, I felt an easing. A loosening. A promise that this pain, just like the euphoria of feeling on top of the world, and in control of everything, would not last forever.
As I drifted off to sleep, it was with the knowledge that this too had passed. I survived a week that started off bad, got worse, and then ended with unbelievable pain.
Life is a balancing act.
I lost a beautiful Saturday. Gained a healthy respect for caterpillars, and am kinda afraid to go outside right now. But I’ll keep getting up every day, going to work, doing all the things, and one of these days, I will be on top again, if only for a few brief moments.
Everything has an opposite. One cannot exist without the other. Good. Bad. Love. Hate. Euphoria. Pain. Control. Chaos.
And nothing lasts forever.
Not the common cold, not bad weeks, or rainy months … not even autumn, when the Puss Caterpillar invades Texas.
I recently took one of those Facebook “tests”. You know, the ones that reveal your hippie name, which woodland creature you are, or what state you should be living in. If my results can be trusted, I’m Sunshine the hedgehog from California! These tests are fun, but usually leave me a bit annoyed at the time I have wasted taking them. This test was different. It was a Myers-Briggs personality type indicator test, and the results left me deep in thought and intrigued to learn more.
Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers published the first questionnaire in 1962. But they began researching and creating the personality preferences in the 1940s after extensively studying the work of Carl Jung. Jung believed that everyone experiences the world through four principal psychological functions: sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking, and that one is dominant most of the time. Katharine and Isabel took this theory and, through their questionnaire, gave it a practical application. They believed it would “help women who were entering the industrial workforce for the first time to identify the sort of war-time jobs that would be ‘most comfortable and effective’ for them.”*
Today, the test is frequently used for team building, career counseling, marketing, leadership training, life coaching, personal and professional development, and marriage counseling.
The results of this personality test revealed that I am an INFJ – Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging (I have since taken a different version and got the same result). Continue reading →
In this part of the story, Shane and I are on the run from the FBI and we have made our way to Alaska. Shane has just picked up a hitchhiker…against my better judgment. It is the summer of 1985.
The drifter and Shane exchange fake names and after looking through him for a second or two I turn my attention back to the countryside outside my window. With a southern accent the guy says he’s from Tennessee. I don’t like his long, greasy dishwater blond hair, his cold dark eyes, his large biceps, or his quiet, guilty manner. My mind races through one bad scenario after another wondering what brought him to the side of the road between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska. I think to myself that he has surely committed far greater crimes than those that have landed me and Shane here. He doesn’t talk much and I’m convinced that what little he does say must all be lies. I catch him staring at me once or twice and it makes me nervous.
Shane is calling himself Roy. It is hard for me to call him that but I have no choice. In my mind he does not look like a Roy. He should have let me pick the name I was going to have to call him. Chase would have worked because he is on the run, or Mark or Steve or anything but Roy. But he didn’t ask me. He just makes me call him Roy, which ironically, means king — another reason for me to hate calling him that. When you’ve been with a man named Shane for seven years it is not easy to suddenly start calling him Roy, but I do it, and I’m proud of myself for not slipping up so far. I don’t get to pick an alias for myself. I think I would like to have been called Grace for a while, but Shane knows he would slip up, so he doesn’t even try. I am still Vanessa, but only a wrung-out, tired version of myself.
There isn’t much talking as we drive north through the middle of the night, the Alaskan summer night that doesn’t grow dark. It just grabs onto the smudgy end of the daylight and holds onto it like a blanket until morning when the sun burns it away and the world is bright again.
The three of us eat cheeseburgers at a picnic table in the 80° Fairbanks sunshine sometime the next day. When you don’t have a clock or wear a watch and it doesn’t get dark, it’s impossible to know what time it is. There is no routine to help keep you grounded. No time clock to punch. No dinner to cook. No alarm clock to ring. There is just a nagging feeling of impending doom as the hours come and go unnoticed. Continue reading →
The cloying aroma of too much perfume clung to the air as I came through the back door. I enjoyed being the first one to arrive at work in the mornings, but I did not like being bombarded with the sickly sweet fog of the resident ghost’s perfume. It was as if she were standing right there spritzing me in the face with it – maybe she was.
Before taking the job, I had been warned that the building (a two story house that had been converted into an office) was haunted. In my interview, I was told, “The house was built in the 1920’s and, among other things, was once a brothel where murders occurred.” Oh boy. My boss joked that he was more worried about what kind of bad karma the previous tenants (lawyers) had possibly left behind. Ha. Ha. He continued by saying that, “To date, the worst thing anyone has experienced is an odd occasional noise, and cold spots that send chills up your spine when you walk through them.”
While the daily perfuming continued, I began noticing another strange occurrence. After a client meeting I would clean up the conference room and push in all the chairs. A few minutes later I would walk past the conference room door and see that one chair was pulled away from the table and turned to face the east wall. I’d push it back and it would pull away again, over and over. While I never actually witnessed the chair move on its own, it would always be repositioned the next time I passed by. Finally, I started leaving the chair in its eastward-facing position. It seemed happier that way.
Sometimes I’d be upstairs in my office and I would hear the back door open and slam closed, which usually indicated a co-worker had arrived. But no one was there. I’d wait to hear footsteps on the stairs, or for someone to say, “Good morning!” and there was nothing. Often, I’d get up and go look out the window, onto the parking lot below, only to find my car the only one in the lot.
Just your average work-place ghost having a little mischievous fun. No big deal. None of this activity really bothered me. I’d even talk to her sometimes. I assumed it was a female because of the perfume, and because of ‘a feeling’ I had. We co-existed and got along as well as a human and a ghost can when occupying the same space, until the day the microwave oven talked to me. Continue reading →